President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks regarding the Administration’s National Security Strategy at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., on December 18, 2017. Photo: Joyce N. Boghosian / White House

Tribal jobs program becomes permanent with President Trump's signature

It's official -- President Donald Trump can claim his first Indian legislative achievement.

With little fanfare, Trump signed H.R.228, the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act, into law on Monday. Though there was no immediate statement or release from the White House, tribes and their advocates are cheering nonetheless.

They say the new law -- which boasted bipartisan support -- will strengthen and improve the 477 program, whose name comes the federal law which first authorized it. They will be able to combine employment, education and training-related grants into a single plan, with a single budget and a single reporting system.

"The 477 program is a proven example of promoting tribal self-determination as it provides flexibility in deciding how tribes want to spend the federal funds," the Native American Financial Officers Association said in a broadcast on Tuesday. "It allows tribes to combine formula-funded federal grants that come from varied sources related to economic development, employment and job training, higher education, skill development for youth and adults to succeed in the workforce, and welfare-to-work."

Currently, tribes can draw on funds from Johnson-O'Malley, Tribal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and other key programs at the Department of the Interior, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor. H.R.228 expands 477 to include nearly every other federal agency, including the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice.

“This historic passage occurred after eight years of tribal advocacy,” President Richard Peterson of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska noted in a press release as the bill was presented to Trump for his signature earlier this month.

Peterson's tribe was the first to take advantage of the 477 program after it became law in 1992. Funds are used to help tribal citizens in southeast Alaska find jobs and improve their skills and education levels.

Since 1992, 43 tribes have joined the program. Though that's a small percentage of the 567 recognized Indian nations, supporters hope H.R.228 will draw in more participants because the new law makes 477 permanent, offering more stability in an era of dwindling or stagnant federal funds.

There were no hearings in the House or the Senate on H.R.228 this year but lawmakers had been working on the bill for the past few sessions. The bill was an easier sell in the 115th Congress as a result -- it cleared both chambers with unanimous support.

Since there were no hearings, the Trump administration didn't get an opportunity to state its views on jobs and employment, issue otherwise high on the president's agenda.

But in his first Native American Heritage Month proclamation, Trump promised to adopt policies to "enhance economic well-being of Native American communities" and he said that he would "always come to the aid of Native American people in times of crisis."

A handful of other Indian bills are coming closer to passage through Capitol Hill so Trump will likely have more signing opportunities during the 115th Congress, which is wrapping up its first half this month. The second part runs from January through December of 2018.

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